NM ethics board sues advocacy group

SANTA FE — The state Ethics Committee has filed a lawsuit accusing an advocacy group of trying to hide its role in ads supporting the early childhood ballot measure and other violations of New Mexico’s campaign law.

The nine-page lawsuit, filed this month in the state’s 5th Judicial District Court, seeks a civil penalty of up to $20,000 against the Working Families Organization, which does business under the name Unemployed Workers United.

The Ethics Committee claims that working families — at a cost of at least $9,000 — sent text messages to independent and Democratic voters ahead of the general election touting the benefits of a constitutional amendment that would generate more funding for early childhood education and public schools .

But Working Families did not disclose that they paid for the messages, the lawsuit says, instead suggesting that the group Unemployed Workers United paid for them.

In addition, according to the lawsuit, the Working Families Organization has not registered with the Secretary of State’s office as a political committee, nor has it filed reports disclosing its expenditure on the ads or the contributions accepted to cover costs.

In a written statement, Neidi Dominguez, executive director of Unemployed Workers United, said the group looks forward to settling the dispute.

“We firmly believe in transparency as a principle for strong democracy and in our work,” said Dominguez.

She added that the Unemployed Association – which she described as a project of the Working Families Organization – is proud of its work supporting the voting measure.

The disputed text messages sought support for Constitutional Amendment 1 in the general election vote. It was accepted with 70% of the votes.

Congressional approval is also required before the change becomes effective.

Once completed, the measure will increase annual withdrawals from the state’s largest permanent fund – a kind of foundation – from 5% to 6.25%.

It is expected to raise an additional $140 million for early childhood education and another $90 million for public schools in its fiscal year beginning next summer.

The state ethics committee’s lawsuit does not address the merits of the change itself. But a court decision is being sought that confirms the Working Families Organization should report its expenses on the ads and disclose the donors who helped pay for them. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties of up to $20,000.

Working Families, the commission said in its lawsuit, “has refused to provide New Mexicans with basic facts about who ultimately funded the election-related ads it purchased.”